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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
'Scotland needs foreign workers'
First Minister Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell: "New talent will help us grow the economy"
Scotland's first minister has said the country must act as "a magnet for fresh talent" and attract foreign workers to ease the population crisis.

Addressing the annual Scottish Trades Union Conference in Glasgow, Jack McConnell said that attracting skilled workers was economically essential.

He said Scotland had the fastest falling population in Europe.

Mr McConnell believed the Scottish Executive's Fresh Talent initiative would help halt the population decline.

Scotland's population is expected to fall below five million by 2009, according to statistics from the Registrar General.

I want us to be known as one of the most welcoming countries in the world
Jack McConnell

The first minister also used his keynote speech to urge people in Scotland to dismiss political extremism and "reject fascism".

He told delegates: "Welcoming new people to Scotland does not threaten Scots, their jobs or their way of life.

"New talent will help us grow the economy, create new jobs and give us the full employment that is already within our grasp."

Extremism warning

Mr McConnell rejected criticism that the initiative could see people in Scotland miss out in the jobs market.

"There are some who say that bringing fresh talent is a direct attack on Scottish jobs," he said.

"There are others who say that each job for an immigrant is one less job for a Scot.

"There are extremists who say you should have to be born here to be able to work here. But, I say they have got it wrong."

Immigration centre
Immigration could halt Scotland's population decline
The first minister said bringing in fresh talent was vital to Scotland's ability to compete on the world stage.

"I want Scotland to be a magnet for fresh talent. I want us to be known as one of the most welcoming countries in the world," he said.

With a view to the European elections on 10 June, Mr McConnell urged the public to remain open-minded to ensure extremists such as the British National Party made no political inroads in Scotland.

"I have absolute confidence in the Scottish public, that have no truck with the prejudice and hatred these fascists stand for," he said.

"But I believe these people are at their most dangerous if we ignore them."

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